Yesterday, I received the email that I waited six long years to receive. It reads,
“Dear Christopher Cleland,
Your Bachelor of Science in Engineering Degree has been posted to your Northern Arizona University academic record…”
At first, I was pretty excited. And I mean that in a way where I was, at best, only mildly thrilled to receive this notification. I was sitting at work, my first engineering job, when I got it, and thought, “That is the reason I am here now.”
Let me explain something: I know I am blessed by the opportunity to be here, the opportunity to go on to higher education and earn a degree in something people consider “prestigious,” and to have a job right out of college. But I will not pretend this is the happiest day of my life, nor the happiest I’ve ever been. Some people may think, at this point, I am ungrateful. I can assure you I am not, I know all of this is a privilege that some don’t have the opportunity to pursue.
I decided to look at my transcript to see how my employer will see me if they choose to look over this transcript, this glimpse at the nutshell that was my college career. As I looked it over, I couldn’t help but question what the devil it was that kept me going. First semester: and A, two B’s, a D, and an F. The only positive grade towards my major was a B in Calculus, and I remember my professor telling me that she gave it to me, that I had likely earned a D, if she was being honest.
Okay, no worries. First semester of college can be rough on some. Let’s look at semester two: Two B’s, two C’s, and an F. Okay… not so good. No matter, it usually takes a year to get into the swing of things. Year 2 of college was no better, most of my good grades achieved in media classes (that was my minor for awhile), and the poor grades were typically the math or engineering classes (but I’ll remind you, they start out quite simple). The overall GPA trend was rocky, at best. I have no shame admitting I ended on a 2.69.
So why am I even writing this? Because someone needs to hear this: I didn’t follow my heart, I didn’t follow my dreams, and it landed me exactly where it promised it would. In a cubicle at a job I don’t really like, doing work I cannot invest myself in because, as good as it is for the greater portion of society, it is not where my heart lies. I am getting paid more than I ever have (six times as much as I was making at Home Depot), and yet my lust for life and the skip in my happy-go-lucky gait is all but worn down.
Now, this job does afford me the opportunity to follow my dreams as I am recording new music, flying to other cities and states regularly to visit friends and record on other artists’ projects, but what’s the use if I wake up every day dragging my feet, and come home sapped of the little energy I started with and the will to move forward or to create?
The question remains: why am I still here? Well, I had to pay for that degree somehow, and seeing as I lost my scholarship after my first semester, I am paying full price for that schooling. So I’m here to pay off a debt for something I didn’t want to do by doing something else I don’t want to do, while looking for the silver linings in every 45-minute car ride to and from work. I’m afraid I’ll be comfortable even after the debt is paid, I’m afraid the energy I started with will be completely gone by the time I am done here, and my paycheck will be THE motivator (and trust me, it’s a very strong motivator).
I’m not bitter (well, maybe I am a little), but this is also just my life path. This is the direction I have been given to walk along; it is a culmination of conditioning, action, and reaction. I have learned a lot from it, and I’m sure I’ll appreciate it someday when I am much older, wiser, and more patient.
But this is here for you, not me. I lived this so you (and you know who you are) don’t have to. And I won’t say “you don’t have to make the mistakes I did” because it was no mistake and you’re going to make mistakes of your own. But don’t be afraid to shift the paradigm, to question those that “know better.” Don’t be afraid to upset mommy and daddy. This is YOUR life, and if you want to be a musician or a writer or a school teacher or an entomologist or a circus clown, you go write ahead, ya little weirdo. Be you. Let your heart do the talking for you. And know that it is never too late.
I mean look at me. I am sitting at an engineer’s desk, pretending to be a writer when no one is looking, pretending to be a musician when I get home, a coffee shop barista on the weekends, and a full time dreamer.
I guess I haven’t lost my spark yet, but I am afraid I will lose it. Something that will help me maintain the ember glow is encouragement, so please let me know if you got anything from my little rant here. And more importantly: make sure you encourage anyone you see with the same symptoms as me. The losing hopers and unsure man-childs. There are tons of us around, and we can usually be seen acing absurdly childish or giddy in the most commonplace, mundane situations, making the best of ordinary situations because the ordinary conversations are the ones that light up our world.
At the center of the brightest lights is a black force which threatens to absorb the light simply because it is easier to succumb than it is to fight. But if there’s a dream in which we can believe and other believers to water the seed, the darkness is extinguished, or at least remains at bay, and life grows like a golden tree.